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Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray announces grant awards in Easthampton; Gov. Deval Patrick in D.C. for dinner with president

  • Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray and Easthampton mayor Michael Tautznik share a laugh at a ceremony delegating Massworks infrastructure funds to Easthampton and other communities behind Eastworks on Friday.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray and Easthampton mayor Michael Tautznik share a laugh at a ceremony delegating Massworks infrastructure funds to Easthampton and other communities behind Eastworks on Friday.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray speaks at a ceremony delegating Massworks infrastructure funds to Easthampton and other communities behind Eastworks on Friday.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray speaks at a ceremony delegating Massworks infrastructure funds to Easthampton and other communities behind Eastworks on Friday.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray speaks at a ceremony delegating Massworks infrastructure funds to Easthampton and other communities behind Eastworks on Friday.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray speaks at a ceremony delegating Massworks infrastructure funds to Easthampton and other communities behind Eastworks on Friday.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray and Easthampton mayor Michael Tautznik share a laugh at a ceremony delegating Massworks infrastructure funds to Easthampton and other communities behind Eastworks on Friday.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray speaks at a ceremony delegating Massworks infrastructure funds to Easthampton and other communities behind Eastworks on Friday.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray speaks at a ceremony delegating Massworks infrastructure funds to Easthampton and other communities behind Eastworks on Friday.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

— Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray was in town Friday to announce that the city landed a $2.75 million state grant. But the real story may have been who wasn’t at the announcement — and why.

Gov. Deval Patrick, who had been scheduled to speak in Easthampton, missed the event because he and his wife flew to Washington, D.C., to have dinner with President Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, Murray remained tight-lipped about whether a run for governor or senator are in his future if either Sen. John Kerry or Patrick take other positions. In the wake of Obama’s re-election, there has been widespread speculation that Kerry or Patrick could be tapped to join the Obama administration.

After the announcing the grants, Murray was hesitant to elaborate on his political future.

“Right now I’m focused on doing my job,” he said. “The election just got over. I’m not sure people are looking for the next election to begin.”

Murray’s visit to the city was to announce a grant that will pay for a project improving accessibility to the Pleasant Street mill buildings.

Standing in the shadow of the massive brick buildings with other state and local officials and a crowd of more than 100 people, Murray discussed the housing, job creation and economic development that would come from four projects funded by MassWorks infrastructure grants that were awarded to Easthampton, Holyoke, Chicopee and Springfield.

Murray lauded the infrastructure improvement projects in Easthampton and the other three local communities that were among the 26 communities to receive $38 million from the MassWorks program, which funds municipal projects that promote economic development or housing, as well as transportation improvements in rural communities.

“I say it all the time ... but this is the blocking and tackling of government,” he said of infrastructure projects. “This is an exciting day in Easthampton.”

Here, the grant will fund the first phase of a $4.8 million project to increase safety and accessibility to the rear of the revitalized mills while also beautifying the space between the buildings and Manhan Rail Trail.

The $2.75 million grant will cover the cost of adding water lines and burying electrical lines in the rear of the mills to make it easier for firefighters to protect the buildings in the case of an emergency, said City Planner Jessica Allan.

The next phase involves creating a 300-spot parking lot and adding pedestrian walkways, lighting and landscaping to make it a more appealing entrance to the buildings, especially for people on the Manhan Rail Trail.

It is the product of a public-private partnership between the city and the owners of three of the mill buildings, Michael Michon, William Bundy and James Witmer. The mill owners are paying for permitting, design and other preliminary costs, while the city is responsible for finding the funding to complete it, Allan said.

“This is a historic venture here with the public and private working to change the face of Easthampton’s bike path and mill buildings,” said Michon, who owns 180 Pleasant St. The building hosts artists, industry and 13 apartments, and Michon has plans to add another 13.

“These projects in Easthampton and Chicopee are examples of our desire to see old mill buildings — part of our identity and heritage — be remade,” Murray said.

Chicopee received a $1.68 million MassWorks grant to transform the site of two former factories into housing and a senior center. Chicopee Mayor Michael D. Bissonnette spoke about the project, and also praised Easthampton’s success at reinventing itself after the decline of the mills.

“I’m always amazed whenever I drive through the downtown by how vibrant it’s become,” Bissonnette said. “It’s something other communities can go to school about and learn from.”

Holyoke’s $2 million grant will go toward the creation of a train station in Holyoke along the Knowledge Corridor/Vermonter Line. The $3.865 million grant for Springfield means new development in the Springfield Technology Park and funding for a community-lead effort to bring a grocery store to an under-served area.

Murray said projects like those funded by the MassWorks program have been “enormously successful” at creating housing and supporting economic development that means more jobs and improving the local economies.

One MassWorks grant application that was not funded was Easthampton’s request for $600,000 to create a boardwalk around Nashawannuck Pond. It was the second time the project failed to be funded by the program, but Tautznik said city officials will continue to seek money to pay for it, whether in the next round of MassWorks grants or through other grant programs.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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